In the 1990s, Chrysler was right alongside domestic automakers Ford and GM with electric drive research and development. Chrysler was test marketing an electric minivan, proving out fast-charge technology for electric cars, and as seriously involved in this field as any company. The merger with Daimler (DaimlerChrysler) seriously slowed, if not stopped, full function electric drive development efforts in the Chrysler camp as emphasis was placed elsewhere.
1. Chrysler Was First While plenty of others are discussed as leaders in the electric drive field, it was Chrysler that introduced the very first modern electric vehicle to market in the U.S. – the Chrysler TEVan in 1992. These were built in extremely limited numbers and aimed at fleets wishing early involvement with electric vehicles. Why fleets? Because of extremely high battery and component costs plus low volume production, the vehicle’s price was in the range of $100,000 each … so nobody else could afford them.
2. EPIC Concept Electric Vehicle Chrysler developed a smooth-looking electric concept van in 1992 called the Electric Power Inter-Urban Commuter, or EPIC for short. Strange acronyms like that seemed to be almost normal then (as evidenced by the circa-1990s Subaru BRAT – Bi-drive Recreational All-terrain Transporter). The EPIC concept was energized by nickel-iron batteries, although that changed to advanced lead-acid batteries in the limited production version of the EPIC that was marketed to fleets five years later.
3. ‘Destiny’ Program’s Four-Door Electric Modifying existing platforms to accept electric drive was not the exclusive approach at Chrysler, Early on, the automaker strived to create a viable four-door mid-size electric vehicle through its ‘Destiny’ program. The vehicle in development made use of lightweight materials and an AC induction motor. Ultimately, it was determined that this would not prove to be a viable option and other approaches were followed.
4. GEM Neighborhood Electric Vehicle Chrysler has sold more than 35,000 low-speed GEM neighborhood electric vehicles worldwide since the mid-1990s with more than 200 million zero-emission miles driven by customers. The GEM is suited for certain types of uses and is not a full-function vehicle. As a neighborhood electric vehicle, by law it is governed to a top speed of 25 mph and is allowed on streets with posted limits of 35 mph or less.
5. Renewed Electric Car Efforts No longer part of DaimlerChrysler, efforts to develop and market electric cars have returned at Chrysler. The most high-profile example of this was the recent debut of three electric drive vehicle concepts – an all-electric Dodge sports car and range-extended electric versions of the Jeep Wrangler and Chrysler Town & Country minivan. The concepts use lithium-ion batteries. While no information is provided about sourcing of these vehicles’ high-tech components, photos have shown the use of UQM Technologies electric drive in the Dodge sports car concept. Chrysler does say that its efforts will move beyond the concept stage and the company will market one of these three vehicles beginning in 2010.